Time and time again: cultural differences in construal levels

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Messervey, Deanna L.
Culture , Time
People mentally represent information, objects, and events in a variety of ways. The purpose of the present program of research was to investigate how culture affects the way people represent temporal information. I hypothesized that increased temporal distance would lead Canadians to think more abstractly, and that this shift toward abstraction would be smaller, or non-existent, among Chinese. To test this hypothesis, I ran three studies with 490 participants in Canada and China (237 Canadian participants and 253 Chinese participants). In Study 1, Canadians preferred to describe actions more abstractly in the distant future than near future, and Chinese did not show this shift. In Study 2, Canadians generated fewer categories in the distant future than in the near future, whereas Chinese did not differ across time. In Study 3, Canadians recalled information about a target event either within two days after the event occurred or approximately two weeks later. Consistent with my hypotheses, Canadians’ coded responses shifted toward abstraction with increased temporal distance, and Chinese did not show such a shift. A meta-analysis based on all three studies revealed that Canadians mentally represent distal events and objects more abstractly and in a less detailed way than proximal events and objects, and that Chinese showed no time effect.
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